When I was working as a government contractor, I was “offered” the opportunity—in addition to my other duties and responsibilities—to manage, mentor, and support a small group of our team members, working on one- or two-person contracts at remote locations in the greater Washington, D.C., area. It meant for me a lot of early hours, extra miles of driving, and being creative in my ways to support these young analysts in developing their tradecraft as they supported their unique clients. One manager described them as an island of misfits. I challenged him and called this team an island of best-fits.
Cedar Mountain could be called a misfit fight.
Just like my work, it seems that I always go for the unique or single-battle Civil War fights (The November 1863 fight at Rappahannock Station is another single battle I have invested considerable time studying.) They are not identified as part of a campaign, and as such, often get little or no attention. I think a fight that generates more than 3,800 casualties deserves some attention.
My book, The Carnage was Fearful: The Battle of Cedar Mountain, is the natural outgrowth of a Blue & Gray article I wrote in 2016.
Robert K. Krick has, up until now, written the only book focused on the Cedar Mountain fight. Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain is a very detailed study of the August 9, 1862, battle. Published in 1990, the book chronicles the battle from Stonewall Jackson’s perspective, focusing on Jackson’s Valley Army’s planning and execution of its ultimately successful fight.
Other books that chronicle this battle wrap it into a larger study of the Second Manassas or the entire Fall 1862 campaign. Most notably are John Hennessy’s superb Return to Bull Run and Edward Stackpole’s From Cedar Mountain to Antietam.
I had already written three appendix’s for other Emerging Civil War titles: Rob Orrison’s and Bill Backus’s A Want of Vigilance, Eric Wittenberg’s and Dan Davis’s Out Flew the Sabres, and Chris Mackowski’s The Great Battle Never Fought, so I felt it was time to tell the Cedar Mountain story.
I approached writing about Cedar Mountain with two key objectives in mind. First, I saw Cedar Mountain not as part of the Second Manassas Campaign, but as the last battle for the defense of Richmond. Second, I wanted to provide some balance to the story of Cedar Mountain.
The Carnage Was Fearful is the story of the last battle of the 1862 Richmond Campaign. As I researched and studied the brief campaign, I became convinced that Cedar Mountain was not part of the Second Manassas Campaign. True, the successful result of Stonewall Jackson’s fight provided Robert E. Lee the opportunity to move the fighting away from Richmond. But the August 9, 1862, fight was a deliberate action to protect the back door of Richmond. Lee used Jackson as he had in the spring to divert and engage Union forces that might engage in and around Richmond. And just like the Valley Campaign, the fight at Cedar Mountain achieved Lee’s goal while also giving Lee the opportunity to move the war away from Richmond.
For the Lincoln government, Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia is a statement about the war and how it would now be fought. Generally speaking, Pope’s army’s attitude toward the war’s prosecution was different than the more conservative way the war had been fought on the Peninsula. Pope would be vilified for his General Orders and pronouncements, but, in the end, this would be how the war was fought and won by the North.
While there is quite a lot of press regarding Pope, what of the rank and file soldiers? Who would tell their story?
I also wanted to tell more of the story of the battle from the Federal perspective, which has largely been seen from the Confederate side.
In compiling material for The Carnage was Fearful, I quickly realize I had more than I could put into the prescribed format. That opens the door for a larger study of the battle in the future.
This was my first book project. Fortunately, my wife is a published author, so I had an in-house consultant. I posed many questions to my peers and to editor Chris Mackowsk, but my greatest challenge was not knowing what I did not know. I spent a lot of weekend travel on backroads and walking across fields (these were not burdens). The overall process was an education. My learning curve at times was huge and frustrating. Personal and professional demands stretched the project timeline. There was a lot of hurry up and wait. Days with back-and-forth communication and weeks of none. Then of course there was my home life and heavy work schedule. All those responsibilities and demands and joyful events had to be met.
To have a book published was a bucket list item. Until the Emerging Civil War series began, through Savas Beatie, I thought this would be unattainable. The opportunity presented by ECW to “emerging” authors was a blessing to me, and I am proud to call myself a ECW author.
The Carnage Was Fearful: The Battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862
by Michael E. Block
Savas Beatie, 2022